Bill Sitzmann / Alamy

Rights groups release software to detect government spyware

Amnesty International and others developed a computer program to shield journalists and activists from government spying

Human rights group Amnesty International released free software on Thursday that allows users to determine if their computers are bugged by government intelligence agencies.

The program, Detekt, was designed specifically for human rights activists and journalists, whose computers governments regularly target, Amnesty said.

“Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology that allows them to read activists and journalists’ private emails and remotely turn on their computer’s camera or microphone to secretly record their activities,” said Marek Marczynski of Amnesty International.

“They use the technology in a cowardly attempt to prevent abuses from being exposed,” he added.

In many place, journalists and activists with sensitive information are at risk of arrest, torture and even execution.

Detekt was developed in partnership with Internet-rights groups Digitale Geselleschaft, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International. It is offered for free at resistsurveillance.org, and available in English, Spanish, Amharic, Arabic, Italian and German.

The software, which is so-far only compatible with Windows operating systems, scans computer systems to determine whether they’ve been compromised. It doesn’t remove spyware, but alerts users to its presence.

“If Detekt indicates signs of infection, you should assume that your computer has been compromised and is no longer safe for use,” its website reads.

“The attacker will likely have remote-control access of your computer, meaning they can view not only your files and emails but everything you type on your keyboard and could even switch on your webcam and microphone remotely,” it continues.

Detekt joins a growing list of software programs developed by nonprofit groups to help activists and journalists skirt government surveillance.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation recently released SecureDrop, which allows confidential sources to pass along sensitive information to journalists or news organizations over an encrypted connection.

Many journalists have also started using PGP, or "pretty good privacy," encryption programs, created by open software developers to secure communications between journalists and sources. Many journalists and activists also use "Tor" technology to conceal their exact physical location when accessing the Internet. 

In its 2014 World Press Freedom Index published in February, Reporters Without Borders said widespread national security and surveillance programs have scaled back press freedom in established democracies — including the United States and United Kingdom.

Traditional violators of press freedom – like Iran, Syria, China, Eritrea and North Korea – remained at the bottom of the index.

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